Thanksgiving 911 - Solutions to avert Thanksgiving dinner disaster


by Elizabeth Berman

Posted on November 24, 2009 at 3:55 PM

Updated Thursday, Nov 26 at 11:23 AM

Pomegranate Bistro's Chef Lisa Dupar’s Tips for Avoiding Thanksgiving Disasters

Common problems: either still raw in the middle or too dry after “recommended cook times”
Quick fix for underdone turkey:
If the dark meat is undercooked or even if the breast meat is still “pink” close to the bone- simply carve off the breasts, legs and thighs, put them in a pan, and return them to the oven to continue roasting until they reach 165°F. internal temperature. Make sure you have lots of good stock, jus or light gravy in the pan with the meat so you don’t go too far the other way and dry it out.
Quick fix for dry or overdone turkey:
If despite your best efforts, you wind up with dry breast meat, make lots of delicious gravy, ladle it generously over the meat, and don’t give it another thought.
Avoiding the problems to begin with:
#!1 most important thing- make sure your turkey is completely defrosted at least 2 days before you plan to roast it (the night before in the refrigerator is NOT ENOUGH TIME). Set it up in the roasting pan with veggies (mire poix), stock, herbs, wine and bird so it’s ready to “pop in the oven” the night before, so all you have to do is focus on the roasting of the bird and making of gravy the day of.  

Still frozen turkey morning of-UGH
Quick fix: To speed up the process safely, you can defrost the turkey in cold water, which is not only a faster thawing method than the fridge but a gentler one. Simply put the turkey (still in its wrapper) in your kitchen sink and cover it with cold tap water. Every half hour, drain the water and refill the sink. The turkey will thaw at a rate of about 30 minutes per pound.

The trouble with stuffing- just don’t stuff the bird to begin with!
Problem: Raw turkey juice soaks into the stuffing if it is put in the cavity to begin with. Not good- the temperature of the stuffing would have to be over 170 degrees to kill that bacteria. Since it’s in the MIDDLE of the bird it will be the LAST thing to get hot. The meat might be dry and overcooked by the time the stuffing reaches a safe temperature.
Quick fix (if it’s already stuffed and still not cooked):  Simply take the turkey out of the oven, scoop the stuffing into a baking dish, and return the stuffing to the oven to bake while the turkey rests before carving.
Avoiding the problem: I always bake my stuffing separately. BUT, we all know the most yummy flavor of the stuffing is all of the wonderful turkey jus. When the Turkey is about ¾’s of the way done, I ladle out the wonderful stock and soak my stuffing, THEN I pop it in the oven to bake- this also keeps your stuffing moist and not dry. 

Timing of all of the dishes to come out hot!
: I’ve got one oven, so how am I supposed to get a turkey and all the trimmings to the table, warm and delicious, at the same time?
Avoiding the problem: Do as much of the cooking ahead as possible. In catering- we would have 99% of this all done the day before.

  • Some things you can make the week before and freeze - raw biscuits, some casseroles, definitely your cranberry sauce will last refrigerated.  Turkey stock can be frozen in zip locks. 
  • Cook and “rice” your potatoes the day before, cook your sweet potatoes, have your stuffing “mix” ready to bake. 
  • Have your turkey “oven ready” the night before. OR… OK don’t have a cow…..  I’ve roasted my turkey the day before, completely “broken it down”, cooled it properly, spent my precious time on reducing the jus and making a killer gravy, and the day of..Re-heat my turkey parts with stock I have reduced and simply re-heat my gravy. I have lots more oven space that way. I also have great turkey stock, bones and sauce to add to my other dishes, such as the stuffing. 
  • Do all of your pies the day before- leave them out room temperature. It’s easy to quickly warm a pie up before dessert, but not so easy to fight for oven space the day of.  Besides, the oven temperature for your pumpkin pie is completely different than the temp for your turkey!!!
  • Have all of your green veggies “blanched” and cooled back down so all you have to do is a quick stove top sauté. 
  • A restaurant method of hot holding you can do at home is a stovetop “steam bath” to keep already baked dishes warm while you are finishing other dishes in the oven. If you have a bread warmer- put it on high to hold mash potatoes, or stuffing warm while you are doing last minute sauté items. Also, if you own a chafer, just use it that day to hold a few dishes warm until ready to serve.  I have even seen a relative plug in a heating pad, put it on high and set her hot dish on top of that with a towel over it- who knew?? 
  • Not enough saucepans? - Heat up a thermos with boiling water- pour it out and store your gravy in there. Most good thermos’ will hold sauce warm for an hour or so until you are ready to pour in the gravy boat.
  • 5. Lumpy gravy

Last minute lumps.

Problem: when I added flour to thicken the gravy, it got really lumpy instead of smooth.
Quick fix: Quickly strain the gravy through a fine sieve. If the strained gravy is thick enough to use, go ahead and serve it. If the gravy is too thin, return it to the stove and let it cook down to the consistency you desire. If it’s still too thin, do what pros in French restaurants do - have a little bowl of “beurre manie” ready- equal portions of soft butter and flour mixed together by hand. Sprinkle a little in at a time to the simmering sauce while whisking. It will thicken nicely- add more if you need it thicker.
Avoiding the problem:  Remember this tip: hot roux with cold broth OR warm broth/ sauce with cool roux (or room temperature beurre manie). The thing that causes lumps is boiling broth and hot roux- it cooks the flour too quickly - think “dumplings!”

Gluey mashed potatoes
Problem: “mixing” your mashed potatoes with a mixer will pull the starch out and makes potatoes “gummy”
Quick fix: If you don’t have the time to start over, make the best of what you’ve got. A few different tricks could work- thin them out with turkey stock or milk. If you have some cottage cheese, a large spoon of cottage cheese will smooth out and also “soften” the mashed potatoes. You could smooth them in a casserole dish with crunchy cheese and breadcrumbs on top and brown them. 
Avoiding the problem: make your mashed potatoes by hand with an old fashioned “masher” – I still use my grandmothers! If you use a potato ricer or food mill instead of your wire masher, you should get lump-free mashers. I don’t mind a few lumps in the potatoes- it’s a preference.

Soupy pecan pie
: My college aged son baked our family chocolate bourbon pecan pie recipe for his college buddies. I got the panicked call that it would not “set up” and was soupy – but still delicious. We figured out he forgot the eggs.
Quick fix: Always have plenty of ice cream in the freezer on Thanksgiving Day, just in case something like this happens. Instead of serving the pie, scoop ice cream into individual serving bowls, spoon the pie filling on top, and garnish with a dollop of whipped cream. Soupy pie fillings make excellent ice cream toppings.
Avoiding the problem: It could be a different problem with the proportion of ingredients in the recipe, e.g., there might not be enough egg to hold the custard together, in which case you should try a different recipe next time. Or you might not have baked the pie long enough -- it needs to bake until the filling is puffed and jiggles only slightly when the pan is nudged. Or the pie might have baked at too hot a temperature, causing the egg custard to break and weep.

A cracked pumpkin pie
Problem: Sometimes your pumpkin pie, while cooling, gets a big crack opening up in the middle of the pie.
Quick fix: Whipped cream to the rescue. Instead of fretting about the crack, hide it. You can pipe whipped cream decoratively onto the surface of the entire pie. Or slice the pie in the kitchen, place each slice on a dessert plate, and top with a generous dollop of fluffy whipped cream. No one will know.
Avoid the problem: Custard pies tend to crack because they’re overbaked by either being in the oven too long or at too high of temperature for the custard.  Next time, remove the pie from the oven as soon as it just begins to set -- the filling will continue to thicken as it cools.